How to Conquer Your Art Fears in 5 Easy Steps

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“Spring” Oil Pastel on Strathmore Tan Toned Paper

As an artist, we all have our trepidations and anxieties surrounding certain aspects of the craft. Whether it’s a fear of messing up, a fear of certain media, or just a general inhibition to take risks in our work, everyone (even those who pretend to be artistically fearless) has the things that hold them back and the areas of creation from which they flee like a confidence-sucking black hole.

I am all too well acquainted with this. From the age of about fifteen to the age of twenty years and five months, I didn’t touch any medium aside from charcoal. No, really. Not even its close cousin, graphite. I feared what I didn’t understand (color) and charcoal is possibly the easiest medium to manipulate out a mistake in the world, so my inner perfectionist was perfectly content with holing up in a cozy corner of this rut. Now aged 20 years and seven months, I’ve migrated from that rut into a period of excitement and love for trying new things. Art has a fresh joy to it, and that is in part because as a creative I get to think outside the box in which I stayed for five years.

Breaking free from the things that hold us back is never a simple feat, but I have five suggestions for discovering the adventurous spirit you never knew you had–at least when it comes to art. I can’t guarantee that these will inspire you to surmount Everest. But hey, I wouldn’t knock it till you try it.

  1. Accept that sometimes the important part of the creative process is not the end product, but what you have learned in the in between. No one starts out as a master. Everyone has to begin somewhere. Even as children we had to experiment with crayons or finger paint or markers until we figured out how to translate the way we saw the finished product in our heads onto the page. There was much trial and error, and while it is easy to focus on the error, you more likely than not made a mistake that you now know how to fix because you made it. Learning from our mistakes is a part of life in general. Life isn’t about death, it’s about the things that we explore in between, and this truth definitely applies to artwork, too.
  2. Look up expressive art prompts like these here and experiment with a new medium. Expressive art is never meant to be hyper-realistic or technically impeccable. It is meant to get your feelings out, so it is the perfect opportunity for experimentation and exploration. Some of these are kind of juvenile but a lot of them are very open to interpretation, which will get your inhibitions lifting and your creative juices gushing. If you so choose, make the final element of self expression shredding up the work and feeding it to your garbage disposal. Or hang it on your wall. You just might surprise yourself at the masterpiece that can come from leaving your hesitations at the door.
  3. Find a new artist and try emulating their style with a new medium. My current #artistgoal is the French indie animator Claude Barras. I love his thin necks and soft, rounded heads. As someone who had never been the world’s biggest fan of using color I was somehow very inspired by the way that he has an almost impressionistic quality to his 3D animated figures coloring. While you can’t really tell that he is my inspiration for the featured image of this post, I took some lessons from his book in the way that I layered colors in oil pastel. Following someone else’s suit takes a bit of the edge off of trying something new and gives you a general idea of how to bend a new look to suit your own style.
  4. Comb through the clearance aisle at your local arts and crafts store and pick up something you would never touch if you had to pay full price for it. Art supplies are rarely inexpensive, and that is partially why it can be scary to pick up a brand new medium. I always think, “what if I don’t like it?” or “what if it doesn’t fit my typical aesthetic as well as I thought it would?” or “what if it is too hard to work with?” Investing in something that might just collect dust in the back of my desk drawer doesn’t jive with my tight budget, and I would much rather purchase the tried-and-true and know that I am putting my funds to good use. But I found some fine art oil pastels in the clearance section at Michael’s a couple weeks ago, and I felt far less guilty dropping $8.99 on them than the typical $17.99. Turns out they actually are one of the most enjoyable media that I have ever tried. The image at the top of the post is one of my favorite creations that I have made with them thus far, maybe one of my favorite creations in general.
  5. Create a whole artwork from start to finish without letting yourself erase a single line. I used to labor over preliminary sketches for going over with pen for three days, only to have the whole thing inked up in under 30 minutes. I was afraid of wasting ink, creating something sub par, and, most of all, ending up with what I perceived as failure. But what I realized is it really is just paper and whatever flub ups I make can either be masked by adding a little extra ink or I can get out some tracing paper, salvage the parts I like, and carry on with the piece.

There’s a whole world out there waiting to be discovered, all from the comfort of your own studio. What are your biggest art fears? Post them in the comments below!

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